We often like to tease Mr. Miller. John Miller has an eye for detail and as a bit of a perfectionist, wants to know the exact details he is working towards. More than once Mr. Miller has asked a question that stumped several of the black belts. He has also asked many that has gotten us to really think as a school and organization. From creating his own short hand to document our techniques and katas to keeping us on our toes, Mr. Miller has had quite the impact on Mountain Academy of Martial Arts. We are very lucky to have him and his family as part of our schools.
1. What got you into taekwondo?
The original guilty parties are David Carradine and Larry Jacobs. My first interest in martial arts came from watching David Carradine in reruns of Kung Fu. Years later, when I was an Air Force officer at Scott AFB in Illinois, a fellow lieutenant (Larry Jacobs) talked up the Taekwondo school he had joined. I figured since he had already done the legwork of finding a reputable school, I would start at the same school. I continued after may reassignment to Colorado Springs, but being in a new association meant giving up my blue belt and starting over as a white belt. That phase of my studies ended upon my departure from the Air Force and relocation to Denver.
My children are what returned me to Taekwondo. Because of my son’s interest in martial arts (in particular Kendo), he and I began studying with Master Bulla, marking my third school and association, and again giving up a blue belt for a white belt. After another hiatus, I resumed study with my daughters at the Mountain Academy, motivated this time by my belief that all girls should be black belts by the time they graduate high school.
2. What’s your favorite thing about taekwondo?
Forms, though hapkido techniques are a close second.
3. Have you studied any other martial arts?
4. What do you do when you’re not doing taekwondo?
Program, read, teach, read, household repair. Did I say read?
5. What aspect of taekwondo have you struggled most with?
Sparring. No, kicks. Definitely kicks. And sparring. Kicks and sparring. Any kicks that require a pivot are a struggle because of limited flexibility (read age). Sparring has always been a problem because I am gun-shy about hurting my opponent.
6. Favorite weapon and why?
Bo. It is about as uncomplicated as a weapon can get, yet it can be used for an astonishing variety of techniques. The escrima is a close second for the same reasons.
7. Favorite technique and why?
Once upon a time my favorite technique was the outside-in crescent kick. As a beginning student, this was my best kick, and invariably caught opponents by surprise when I threw it. It was directly responsible for my first tournament sparring trophy (actually, my only tournament sparring trophy). Alas, my speed is not what it once was, and I have not yet settled on a new favorite technique.
8. How has taekwondo changed you?
When I first began, I had a bit of a temper. Taekwondo has done a lot to temper my temper.
9. What would you tell someone just starting out in martial arts?
Don’t think of Taekwondo as a class you are starting in order to get a black belt. Instead, view it as a change you are making to your routine. Try to turn it into a habit, both for class attendance and at-home practice. If your sole focus is the black belt, the three and a half years needed to get there can begin to seem like an eternity. Viewing Taekwondo as a part of your daily routine, rather than as a process that has a definite end (the black belt), will help a lot on those days when you feel supremely unmotivated to go to class. Okay, maybe it will only help a little, but it will still help.
It is also a huge help to have a study buddy, or do classes as a family activity. It s a lot harder to say “I just don’t feel like going to class tonight,” when you know that there is a friend there who is going to wonder where you are.
Finally, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the black belt means you finished. The black belt is not the endpoint of study, but the starting point. Having learned the basics, it is now time to master them.
10. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I miss Mikhail Gorbachev. I didn’t trust him when he first came to power because he was a protege of Yuri “KGB” Andropov, but when he abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine in 1988 and allowed Eastern Europe to chart its own path, he established he wasn’t a psychopath bent on world domination. Something that cannot be so easily said about the tag team of Putin and Medvedev.
Somehow that doesn’t seem outrageous enough. How about … I actually enjoyed the Speed Racer movie.
11. Favorite form?
Passai. I like complexity.
12. Favorite place?
Six Flags Over Texas. My fondest memory is of my son’s reaction when we visited the park in 1994.
13. Favorite book/author?
Do I have to pick just one? For author, probably the extraordinarily prolific Alexandre Dumas. But my favorite book would be The Hobbit; mostly because of the experience of reading it aloud to my children.
14. Favorite movie or tv show?
My favorite movie is probably Spartacus. My favorite tv series is The Prisoner (the Patrick McGoohan version, not the James Caviezel version).
15. Favorite quote?
Any “pithy” Churchillism; they’re pretty much all good. Like:
“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to persuade my wife to marry me.”
One that reminds me not to take things (including myself) too seriously:
“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”
One that is really relevant to Taekwondo:
“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”
16. Favorite season?
Summer. Cold weather and I do not get along.
17. Favorite ice cream flavor?
Coffee, or perhaps mint chocolate chip.
18. Favorite super hero?
When I was younger, it was definitely Captain America. He fights Nazis; what’s not to like about that?
Generally I’m not a big fan of super heroes anymore, because there doesn’t seem to be anything heroic in someone like Superman facing down a bad guy. I’m more a fan of heroes like Batman, Iron Man, or Green Hornet who may have nice toys but are still ordinary people and still run the same risks confronting evil that anyone else would. Hmm … I guess being gazillionaires makes the three of them not quite ordinary, but you know what I mean …
19. What hobbies do you have?
Reading, writing, programming.
20. Dream vehicle?
Constitution-class starship, as seen in the original Star Trek series.
Oh, wait, did you mean automobile …?
21. Pets and/or kids?
Four children; one son and three daughters.
22. Dream vacation?
Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars mission. Since it’s a 500 day trip, and whoever makes it will be working the whole time, it’s not technically a vacation. But for me it would be …
23. What did/do you want to be when you grow up?
An astronaut (see previous answer). My college studies and Air Force career were aimed at getting me a position as an Air Weather Service mission specialist.
24. What do you want to learn?
Everything. Practically speaking there isn’t enough time for that, so currently I’m focused on Mandarin.
25. What can’t you live without?
26. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Definitely Star Trek, but only seasons 1 and 2 of the original series; seasons 3-6 and the second half of season 7 of Deep Space Nine; and the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise. Otherwise Star Wars, but only episodes 4-6. Why isn’t Babylon 5 a choice? And what about Dr. Who, especially the Tom Baker years?
27. If you were a cartoon character, who would you be and why?
Dr. Benton Quest. Science is cool, and he had no end of neat toys to play with.
Tank man is at the top of the list, though we don’t really know anything about him aside from his actions on June 5, 1989. Alongside is Maximilian Kolbe. These two define what it really means to “speak truth to power.”
29. One thing you wish you were better at?
Time management, or at least avoiding starting new projects.
30. One thing you wish people knew about you?
I’m not a hugger. Seriously, people … respect the introvert’s personal space.
31. What super power would you want to have?
Invulnerability. I might not like super heroes, but if I knew I could walk out of any situation I found myself in I would embark on a whole new career dealing with the Kim Jong Uns of the world.